Wednesday, November 23, 2011

It’s time for everyone to believe what others are saying about us: Acadiana is one of the best regions in the country to live and do business.

As residents of Acadiana, we are familiar with the quality of life and cultural endeavors that frequently receive praise and high marks from visitors, but it should come as no surprise that Lafayette also receives high marks when it comes to our economic prosperity. You and I can say Acadiana is one of the best places in the world, but it always means more when someone else says it. That’s why I always begin any presentation I give with a bit of good news from regional and national sources.


In the past year, Lafayette has received national recognition in the areas of wage growth, business environment and the overall economy. Lafayette’s job and wage growth numbers have been on the rise for several years. Our cost of doing business, driven by affordable labor, health care and utility costs, has been on the low end of the spectrum for several years. Our entrepreneurial spirit, a fundamental component of our community and heritage, has gained the attention of people from across the nation. So how does Lafayette compare to the rest of the nation?

ABiz’s sister publication The Independent recently reported on Lafayette’s middle class having the sixth fastest growth rate (4.1 percent) in the country between 2006 and 2010. We saw a similar report earlier in October. The Business Journals reported, based on raw figures from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, that Lafayette has the 11th highest annual growth in per capita income in the nation at 4.94 percent. At $44,598, Lafayette’s per capita income — that’s the income for every man, woman and child — is in the top 7 percent of all counties in the U.S.

For several years, Lafayette has ranked well on Forbes’ list of Best Places for Business and Careers. In June, the MSA had the ninth best job growth and the 54th lowest cost of doing business among the largest 200 U.S. metro areas. The index is based on the cost of labor, energy, taxes and office space. Forbes, in a related article, also ranks Lafayette as having the highest five-year income growth out of all metros — a reflection of our steady economy over the past few years.

Led by the mining (oil and gas) industry, Lafayette’s overall economy is in excellent shape according to Business Insider. Using data from the BEA, the site compiled a list of the 15 cities with the fastest economic growth in the country. Lafayette had the sixth fastest rate of Real GDP growth at 8.3 percent. Real GDP is an inflation-adjusted measure of each metro’s gross product that is based on national prices for the goods and services produced within the metropolitan area. Nationally, GDP grew only 2.5 percent between 2009 and 2010.

Lafayette’s forward-thinking and entrepreneurial spirit are key factors to the community’s success that I mention everywhere I go. Southern Business and Development recognized Lafayette on two of its Top 10 lists in April, citing community-wide initiatives such as the Opportunity Machine, LITE and LUS Fiber. LEDA’s ongoing collaborative efforts, spotlighting the OM as the most recent, made the list of notable economic development collaborations. The OM is a collaboration between LEDA, LITE, the UL Lafayette and the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce. That collaboration along with LITE, fiber, and growth in high-tech GDP, as cited by the Milken Institute, are all reasons Lafayette was also recognized by SB&D as one of the 10 markets where digital media is clustered in the South.

Not only is Acadiana a great place to do business, it is a great place to live — but that’s no surprise to those of us who live here. What may be a surprise are the metrics these rankings are based on. It’s not all based on festivals and good food.

For the second year in a row, Lafayette was named one of the Top 100 Places to Live by Relocate America. The organization looked at communities that are well positioned for economic recovery, already experiencing strong economic recovery or have proven overall economic stability. Factors such as employment, education, community leadership and overall quality of life were strongly considered when the list was compiled. Bloomberg BusinessWeek named Lafayette as one of the 10 Best Affordable Places to Live in the U.S. based on housing costs, crime, unemployment and educational attainment, in addition to other criteria such as family income, poverty, commute time, air quality, diversity and share of families with children.

Of course, you can’t talk about Acadiana for too long before our culture comes into play; and this year, we’ve earned some bragging rights. In July Lafayette was named the Best Small Town for Food in the Rand McNally/USA Today 2011 Best of the Road competition. Judges spent two days in Lafayette sampling food from more than a dozen restaurants. Lafayette will be featured in the 2013 Rand McNally atlas as one of five Best of the Road communities. And, for the seventh time, Festival International de Louisiane was named one of the American Bus Association’s Top 100 Events in North America.
Over the past few years, nearly all of these lists saw big shifts related to ongoing economic conditions in the country. Cities that were once on top have slipped for one reason or another; but Lafayette is one of several communities that has managed to not only remain on these lists, but actually improve its position. With recent successes such as the new Halliburton manufacturing facility and the Schumacher Group headquarters expansion, Lafayette seems well poised to continue “moving up the charts.” Now it’s time for everyone to believe what others are saying about us. Acadiana is one of the best regions in the country to live and do business.

Gregg Gothreaux is president and CEO of the Lafayette Economic Development Authority.

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